Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Conversation Mishaps II!

My mom and I were driving 75 miles per hour down the highway (that is the speed limit). The car is a terrible place to converse, but half of our deepest conversations occur when we’re stuck in the car for two hours. We have argued, debated politics, and told stories.

On this day, we were talking about my job and school prospects during COVID-19. We have discussed this a million times before and we will likely discuss it a million times more! There was a lot to talk about, especially when there are layers upon layers of planning, contingencies, and the next apocalyptic event!

Near the end of the conversation, Mom says, “You have a lot of boo… opportunities.”

I tilted my head and guessed the syllables I did not hear, “Boolean?”

“Beautiful! You have a lot of beautiful opportunities.”

“Boo…lean?” I tried again.

“No, brilliant! You have brilliant opportunities!” We also shouted a lot in the car.

“Ohh. Boolean would work too! Most of these opportunities are either true or false statements.”

“You’re a nerd!”

Indeed. There’s no turning back from the dark side now!

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Essential Workers Appreciation

First, I hope everyone is in good health, good fortune, and relatively sane. If not, I wish health, fortune, and sanity will come your way!

Since the Coronavirus lockdown started, essential workers’ roles, traditionally low-paying customer service jobs, have risen to the same level of urgency and potential danger as first responders. Even with all the newfound appreciation for these workers—delivery, janitorial, grocery, restaurant—there can never be enough respect and kindness for all that they do.

And if you think about it, essential workers have always been essential. Always.

Essential workers keep everything running. Janitors, maintenance workers, and waste workers make sure that our environment does not fall into disrepair. Grocery story and restaurant workers literally feed us. Nurses and doctors do their best to keep us alive and healthy. Emergency workers operate under crises to save as many people as possible. Drivers and transportation workers get vital supplies from point A to point B. And there are so many more that still play a critical role.

So to all the essential workers — thank you. Thank you for all the work you do especially under crisis, threats from the virus and rude people!

it’s not just the running of society that the essential workers maintain, it’s also the community which is just as important as the day-to-day operations. Essential workers have ALWAYS been important to smooth operations, just unrecognized.

To that end, I want to shout out to one particular grocery story clerk for the services provided about six years ago.

During my junior year of high school, my parents and I took a week to visit colleges. It was a fun trip where we literally drove down the east coast and visited all the colleges that I was considering. Of course, we researched and prepared questions for each college. We signed up for tours and I brought my bluetooth clip-on microphone so that I could hear the tour guide better.

Our first stop was in Cambridge, Massachusetts. And that’s when I was introduced to the delightful New England weather — rain! As a New Mexican, I normally love rain and since my parents were familiar with the area, we packed accordingly. Unfortunately, rain does lead to the itsy-bitsy issue of water and hearing equipments. Everything would be fine as long as I didn’t land in a puddle. We went to the first college in Cambridge and joined a tour. The tour guide was lovely, knew all about the campus, and when I went up in the beginning to ask her to wear the microphone, she was very agreeable. Everything’s great!

Unfortunately, the clip-on was not secure enough on the tour guide’s shirt and as we were walking outside from one building to the next, the microphone slipped from her shirt and fell to ground just inches from one of the many growing puddles!

The tour guide make a quick save and it was not on the ground for more than a second. I told her it was fine and still working and we continued. But there was still a problem. This was only the first of like 10 tours we planned to go on and if the microphone fell off on the first tour, the chances of it not happening again were not good.

The easiest solution is to turn the clip-on microphone into a necklace. I even have a fancy-schmancy neck-cord that came with the microphone … sadly still in New Mexico. None of us had a string to fashion a necklace out of so we went to the nearest grocery store and stopped by the balloon station.

My mom and I explained the situation to the attendant and asked if we could cut some balloon strings for the microphone. Not only did the attendant cut the balloon strings to the appropriate length, she also asked what colleges I was visiting and cut the strings in those school colors!

It was thanks to that balloon attendant that I could enjoy the rest of my college visits without worrying about the microphone. Without her, not only would I be unable to focus on learning about different colleges, but likely would have lost or damaged the teeny tiny microphone in the middle of some huge unknown college campus.

So thank you to that grocery store person in Massachusetts and thank you to all the essential workers out there!

Saturday, July 11, 2020

This is Water - Piano Notes

This is an assignment that reflects on what ‘water’ is. It is based on a commencement speech by David Wallace Foster who tells a story “This is Water” (video found here).

The general story starts with two young fish swimming along in the water when they pass an older fish that says “Good morning folks! How’s the water today?” The fishes continue swimming on their way when one of the young fish turns to the other and asked, “What is water?” 

Reflecting on what is ‘water’ is reflecting on what seems so obvious and all-encompassing that it does not bear recording and thus is not … obvious. Here is one of my ‘water’ moments:

Hearing people can hear an actual musical note instead of a dull hammer thunk when listening to the higher notes on the piano. This was news to me when I was listening to Fur Elise for the hundredth time and only hearing half of the notes intersperse with ‘thunk thunk thunk.’

I know that there are sounds that I cannot hear without hearing aids but I recognized them with hearing aids because people talked about them regularly (fire alarms and bird whistles to name two). There are still some sounds that I know about that I cannot hear with hearing aids because they are too high for my ears to catch (i.e. an ’s’ sound in words still sounds like a gap of silence, ‘sh’ still sounds like a breath of noisy air).

Even with that knowledge, it still never occurred to me that hearing people actually liked listening to Fur Elise played on the higher notes of the piano - I've always played it one or two octaves lower. When I hear the higher notes on the piano, I'm not hearing the notes but the sound of the hammer hitting the string, the key hitting the piano. It's both a cool thing and a reminder. It's cool, because I hear something that normal people don't hear--by not hearing the high frequency, the lower frequencies pop out more--and a reminder because I can't take what I hear for granted and assume everyone else is hearing the same thing.

On a similar note, the first time I went to a Deaf Camp (age 8) coming from a 99.9% mainstream hearing school, it was an eyeopener for me. Much as the fish did not know what "water" was, I did not realized that not all hearing loss is the same, not all communication methods work for everyone, and what is the norm for one person is completely alien to another.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Latest Hearing Mishap - A Long Chain of Misunderstandings!

A friend and I were playing foosball at the beginning so it was a bit loud, but this is the longest chain of miscommunication I've had in a while!

Me                                                                               Foosball Friend

“So where are you heading next?”
                                                                             “I’m going to Ching.”

“... Ching?”  
                                                                        “Ng [pronounced 'ing'].”

“Oh, Ng.”
                                                                                               “No, Ink.”

“... Ink?”

“Tink ... as in Tinkle?”

“Oh Dink, that place right down the block?”
                                                                                   “Yes, that place!”

Sunday, December 29, 2019


This summer I went to a fantastic internship in Washington D.C. at Gallaudet University! My internship was a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU). For undergrads interested in Science, Technology, Engineering, Math (STEM) subjects, I highly recommend looking at REU’s for any curious student. They are funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and cover all areas of research at many universities. REUs are fantastic opportunities to learn and explore different areas of science.

My REU at Gallaudet was called Accessible Communication in Technology (AICT) led by Dr. Raja Kushalnagar, Dr. Christian Vogler, Ms. Linda Kozma-Spytek, and Mr. Norman Williams. There were 15 students on six teams. Each team had two mentors and a graduate assistant. The undergrad population was composed of aspiring audiologists, psychologists, and fellow computer scientists!

My partner and I studied captioning latency specifically in captioned telephones. We wondered how does the delay between the audio of someone speaking and a live captioner keeping up with the speaker affect the understanding by the deaf or hard-of-hearing listener.

Other teams were also working on interesting projects. In no particular order, the projects they worked on are:
  • Hearing Assistive Technology and how users use them such as phone apps in restaurants, hearing assistive devices in theaters. 
  • Punctuation in captions and how the absence of punctuation or correctness of captions aid or disrupt user’s viewing. 
  • Voice assistance devices, testing the feasibility of substituting voice instructions with ASL instructions. Imagine waking up a computer just by signing 'Hey!'
  • Captioning interfaces such as how long each line of captions should be and how fast should captions go - they tried to find the Goldilocks zone such that the captions were not too long, not too short, not too slow, and not too fast! 
  • Captions in virtual reality and not only added captions to a few virtual videos, but also added indicators to show who was speaking.

For a full scope on each of these projects, visit the AICT website. You can also see past years’ projects too!

I learned so much from working on this REU, but not just about computer science. With this REU, I was living and working at Gallaudet University, For someone who was mainstreamed like me, it was an awesome chance to see what going to a Deaf University and living in the Deaf World would be like. The rooms were already fitted with flashing fire-alarms and doorbells that flickered the lights. Nearly everyone I ran into signed using American Sign Language (ASL). The fastest ASL I learned was coffee— because I was waking up three hours earlier than normal coming from the west coast to the east coast— the cafeteria lady would ask (sign) what kind of drink I wanted!

I loved the days where I did not have to speak, but still communicated regularly with people. It was freeing. Many people signed and spoke at the same time, especially in mixed company. That’s the level of ASL fluency I aspire to because it’s one thing to learn another language, it’s another to think and communicate simultaneously in two languages!

This REU was an experience. I learned so much beyond the scope of the original REU, expanding my computer knowledge, practicing ASL, and interacting with people from all walks of life with different hearing abilities.

Are you ready for an REU? Go check them out!

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Take a Risk!

Originally written March 14, 2019 (Happy Pi Day!)

Take a Risk
Last year, I took a social dance class in college. Not only did I learned waltz, salsa, swing, and tango, but I also learned many life lessons. My teacher, Richard Powers, gives halftime talks to the first social dance class that covers not only lessons for making the most out of dancing, but making the most out of work, career, and life.
One of many things I took to heart from my social dance class is that it is okay to take risks — encouraged even. Taking a risk and trying something new might end in failure, but it can be fun and even lead to something great!
Taking a risk does not mean being careless. All dancing classes have safety suggestions that should not be ignored. For example, it is common sense for partners to make sure they do not run into other dancing couples; it is highly recommended to avoid dislocating or spraining a joint; and communication is vital in any relationship. Without communication — spoken, visual, or touch — any attempt of trying something new will fall flat.
Communicating with a partner can be as simple as saying “Let’s try it!” or really listening to each other’s non-verbal cues, watching for feedback, and learning from past experience. If a partner looks queasy after a double turn, then a triple turn will not make it any better. If a partner is smiling after that leap that did not turn out quite right, then it is okay to try it again. Communication shows when it’s OK to take risks and how far to push the envelope.
It’s always a risk learning something new, whether it is a new move or a completely new dance. Rarely will anyone get it right on the first try. In fact, even though practice makes perfect, it is still possible to mess up even the simplest step. The key  here is getting up and keep dancing. Embrace mistakes as they happen. Repeat them if they make you smile. Change them if you feel if they could be better.
Asking someone to dance is another risk. It can be nerve-wracking to approach an unknown dancer. The worst that can happen is they don’t want to dance. That’s okay - they’re not the only dancer in the room. Otherwise, they say yes and there are two possible outcomes. One, maybe they are more experienced and you’re afraid to be left in the dust. That’s okay. Now you have a chance to make yourself a better dancer by trying to match your partner’s skills, to learn something new. Two, maybe they are less experienced and you feel like you are floundering. That’s okay too. Now you have a chance to flounder, to learn together, and to make something great, maybe even start a new dance craze. Take a chance! Ask someone new to dance!
My class required us to go out dancing for homework—and this was a challenge for someone socially anxious like me.  My panic attacks always happen at the door to the dance floor. It is the point where I have a choice between dancing and having fun or leaving to try another day. Thoughts that are running through my head start negatively — “I don’t know enough,” “I’ll make a fool out of myself,” or “I’m not dressed for this.” That point at the door is the perfect time to challenge myself to take a risk. I switch gears and change my negative thoughts to “I don’t know enough, but I’ll learn from this experience,” “I’ll make a fool out of myself, but I’ll have fun doing it,” and “I’m not dressed for this, but who cares?” Sometimes it is easier to stop thinking and open that door and wing it. 
          It’s time to take a risk!

Monday, September 9, 2019

An Object I Wish I could Lose - Hearing Aids Of Course!

          A little over a year ago, I took an English story writing class and everyday we had a 5-minute writing prompt where we tried to write as much as we could without overthinking it. One day, my teacher asked us to write about either something we lost that we wish we could find or something we wish we could lose but cannot. There were so many good stories that came out of this, some were completely fictional and some were based on my peers’ lives. 
          The first time through this prompt, I wrote about a sentimental pin I had lost in high school around Christmastime. Then the second time through this prompt, I thought a little bit more about the second half of the prompt. What is an object I wish I could lose?
          The answer hit me like a lightning bolt. It might have come even faster if I had scratched my head and upset my hearing aids’ delicate sensibilities.
          Without further ado, enjoy.

An object you wish you could lose - Hearing aids

          Once the little girl called them party ears because they had glitter and were colorful. Then, she grew up and loathed them. She did not remember calling them party ears anymore. Instead, she called them the worst thing on Earth - hearing aids.
          Hearing aids. When they were on, they screeched and screamed. They tattled on and on, re-echoing sounds the little girl could hear, and inserting new sounds - sounds that the little girl supposedly could not hear. The hearing aids were like gossipers. They heard things, whispered them — more like screamed — to the little girl, added their own little embellishments, a wind here, a screech there, a howl here. The little girl hated these embellishment. She hated the little gossipers behind her ears.
          Every once in a while, the vile hearing aids beeped loudly to say the battery needed to be replaced. As the battery ran closer to being dead, the hearing aids beeped more frequently. The little girl hated how the hearing aids complained about low battery. Why should she care if the hearing aids are dead or not? At least when they were dead, they were quiet. 
          If the battery did not die of its own will, the little girl would turn it off. When the hearing aids were off, blessed silence would reign, but it would be too quiet. The bulky ear molds that went into her ears acted as earplugs when the hearing aids were off. And the ear molds never fit quite right. It felt like the shirt that was just a bit too snug in the armpits, or the tights with the knotty ends tickling the toes in all the wrong places. 
          The little girl cannot take off the dead hearing aids. If she takes off the hearing aids, the teacher will tell her parents and her parents would tell her to wear them. Her parents will say things like “You’ll hear your teachers better. You’ll hear your friends better.” But the teachers just taught from the book. And her ‘friends’ were too loud and never made sense to her anyway. Why should she listen? Why did she need the hearing aids to listen? The little girl listened to her parents. She wore her hearing aids, suffering and counting the minutes, the second for the school bell to ring so she could take them off without reprimand. She still hated the hearing aids.
          Everyday, the little girl wore the hearing aids. Some days, the hearing aids were heavy. It felt like the tube connecting her ear molds to the small chip behind her ears would cut through her ears. It hurt. She wanted to take them off and throw them in a ditch somewhere, never to see them again. The gully behind her house would be the perfect place to dispose of them. If she waited until monsoon season, then the rain will flood the gully and destroy the hearing aids beyond all repairs! She would never see nor wear the hearing aids ever again!
          But that would not make her parents happy.
          Her parents tried to tell her that the hearing aids do not make her different from the other children, they are supposed to help her fit in. The little girl knew she was different. She knew that the hearing aids mark that difference somehow, but why should she try to fit in? Why should the hearing aids help her fit in? She thought she spoke normally. She thought she heard all she needed. She thought the other kids were weird for being so loud and talkative. Being deaf did not matter to the little girl.    
          Only the hearing aids mattered and they were the bane of her existence.
          It would seem that nothing would convince the girl to wear the hearing aids happily. The sounds that came through them were ugly to the girl no matter how much it helped her understand the world and the language around her. Perhaps it was just not meant to be. Perhaps the little girl preferred a life of familiar sounds unfiltered by the hearing aids, not caring about the sounds she did not hear. 
            Except …
            Once, the little girl was walking to the bus stop and it was one of the rare times she wore her hearing aids outside. The bus came early in the morning and the little girl was barely awake. She walked with her eyes closed, knowing the path to the bus by heart. She heard a whistle, a song. It confused her. The little girl had never heard anything like it before. She opened her eyes and looked around. She was alone next to a copse of aspens and pines. She never heard that sound before, even though she spends a lot of time outside. Then, realization struck. The little girl had read about birds chirping and singing. She had read stories that romanticized birdsongs — Atticus, from To Kill a Mockingbird, said it was a sin to kill a mockingbird because it songs were so beautiful — but never before had the little girl heard it before. Never before had she believed it was so beautiful.
          The birdsong redeemed the hearing aids. So while her parents talk, her teachers drone, and her friends yap, the little girl listened to the birdsongs. The hearing aids are still heavy, whiny, clunky inventions of the devil, but they added something beautiful to the girl’s worldview. They opened the gate to the sounds the hearing took for granted, the sounds that people dismiss in a normal setting, but are no less beautiful.